Reflections on the past six months at CIID

Half way through the Interaction Design Programme at the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design (“CIID”) — time to pause, reflect and share some of the many things I’ve learned along the way, so far.

#1 — To Think Of All Relationships As Teams

Having learned a precious amount on teamwork here at CIID, I’ve extended this to think of all relationships (both inside and outside the studio) as teams.

The sheer diversity in experience and background of the people who makes up CIID offered the perfect opportunity to think beyond my own discipline, and my own frame of reference as a result of my experiences.

A part of empathy is to have the capacity to place oneself in another’s position. I’ve found that actively listening and understanding how others think about the same problems has resulted in many new perspectives to work from and more well-rounded solutions.

During our rapid prototyping class, we learned to use Origami, a prototyping tool for digital interfaces that facilitates visual communication of our ideas. That’s taking empathy in mind — to better communicate and build rapport with other team members like engineers.

Just as we would empathise with other stakeholders at work, I’m also reminded not to forget to practice empathy with my teammates, or even with those closest to me, my family and friends. As humans, we all have our own baggage, opinions, unique experiences and problems. Not only has CIID presented me with the environment to train this empathy muscle, working with ever-changing teams also served as a helpful reminder to apply the same to personal relationships outside the studio. (easier said than done, but I try!)

Part of norming is discovering others’ values and goals. I’ve started to pay a lot more attention to what the other person cares for — their priorities. As we would in a team environment, I’ve learned to reflect on my actions to help support them in ways that’d contribute to what matters to them.

While this is not a strict rule, it reminds me of how much I’ve spoken versus how much I should be listening.

I’ve become a lot more observant on my own tendency to interject in conversations. What I found helpful was to write these thoughts down, to share after. Meanwhile, to practice active listening, and pay full attention to the person speaking.

With more time to process and think before saying things “on the fly” also gives choice to respond from clarity and logic rather than from emotion.

Honesty and openness are both very important aspects in relationships. But just as important, is to know when and how to say things. I’ve learned to pose feedback in the form of questions, to use “we” and “us” more often (instead of “you”), and avoid saying you “never” or you “always” (there are almost always exceptions).

Positivity and appreciation in my opinion are underrated! In tough times, I try to embrace a positive “can-do” attitude, with the belief that hardships can be overcome together as a team. I take the time to genuinely thank people for what they do, to vocalize my appreciation, even for the small things.

Practicing these require conscious and continuous work. It’s not easy.
My family was a huge part of where I’ve applied these — our relationship has gotten better despite the distance. I highly encourage you to try the same with people who matter to you in your lives.

p.s. Special thanks to the Sherwins for gifting this knowledge to us and to every colleague whom I’ve worked with for the enriching and enjoyable moments.

#2 — The Importance Of Taking Breaks

This one seems obvious, but taking breaks was something I wasn’t very good at. My time at CIID, however, allowed me to experience how effective breaks can be — no matter how short, they go a long way.

Schedule your breaks; be it a walk, coffee, stretch or simply resting your eyes.

Results were almost always evident. After breaks, there’s more energy, more enthusiasm. It helps us reset, re-focus and make room for new ideas and directions.

In fact, many of my creative moments happened when I was taking a break. It almost serves as a creative fuel. Neuroscience research also suggest that people tend to come up with creative ideas when they de-focus and let their brains roam.

The fact that ideas come and go, it has also been very helpful to keep tab of ideas in a notebook or digitally, and to revisit for inspiration.

#3 — Some Very Valuable Teaching Practices

Having been taught by over thirty faculty members, I’ve found many teaching practices to be valuable as I observed as a student.

I thought it was a brilliant idea to extend the medium which we typically associate with as a teaching canvas, to encompass the whole environment that students interact in (e.g., the lab, the kitchen). By incorporating learning materials in our physical space, I found myself learning beyond the classroom. Reading printouts on walls across the building refreshes my memory on some of the things learnt and gives me the luxury to read them in my own time.

The power of acting to visualize abstract concepts and theories (e.g., students mimicked the movement of electric current) was not only fun, but helps with memory. The use of analogies (e.g., electricity was like water, valves like resistors) also helped improve understanding of the concept —similar to metaphors in interaction design (e.g., the desktop, the recycle bin).

We received a swatch book for the Materials of Electronics class, which was perfect for documenting and for reference after class and in the future. It also allowed me to listen with undivided attention during class without worrying to take notes frantically.

Involving students in certain decision making process was largely well received by my class.

This could be a “feedback wall” where students anonymously expressed their thoughts (e.g., on things well done, things that could be done differently, and suggestions), or polling to find out students’ interests on various topics. It was heartening to see teachers adapt and adjust their classes based on our input. Dividing up into smaller groups further empowered students to develop their desired skills as they dived deeper into their chosen interests.

At the end of the day, no one class is the same. Maintaining the flexibility to best fit the class at hand should always be considered, if the situation allows.

Introductions from both faculty and students also allowed for a closer teacher-student relationship — a two-way conversation to learn about them, but also for them to get to know us. One of the great benefits of having a small class size.

Having the class share their learnings after each exercise helps reinforce and validate knowledge. The sharing of success and failure stories provides valuable insights into others’ approaches and learnings which we can takeaway from.

#4 — To Be Comfortable With Uncertainty

I’ve learned to be more comfortable with uncertainty.

Sutherland’s Sketchpad example exemplified the importance to design an interface that afford users to feel like they’re in control. As humans, we are by nature wired to want a sense of control. I’m no exception.

However, uncertainty is also an inevitable part of the design process — be it some extremely abstract problems, the macro context of certain How Might We statements, or just generally not knowing where things are heading.

Through the numerous design sprints we’ve gone through over the past 6 months, I’ve learned to trust the process rather than drawing too much focus on the outcomes. In fact, by acknowledging that we do not and cannot know exactly what will happen, this actually leaves open possibilities for new ideas and innovation.

Over time, I’ve built confidence to live with uncertainty, to the extent that sometimes I feel I’m starting to like it. Life is much richer when you learn to enjoy the ride, and I feel it’s the same in design. Of course, it’s still important to have a plan, methods or frameworks to follow, but always have the flexibility to pivot and welcome the unanticipated.

It’s about trusting the process enough to anticipate uncertainty and be comfortable with it.

Hope you’ve enjoyed reading this! If you’d like to share any thoughts, reach out to me on LinkedIn @kfhkwok or f.kwok@edu.ciid.dk.

Lawyer and designer, passionate about designing humane interactions that help us live more meaningfully. www.feikwok.com

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